I had to spell it for a police officer, once, who gave me a warning to watch my speed, "WHAT is your occupation?" I am a doula. I do professional labor support. People hire me to help them plan and execute their births. Kind of like a wedding coordinator, only most times there isn't cake and there's never a big white dress or at least there hasn't been yet for me.
Last weekend, in the wee hours of the morning, I watched my 300th baby be born, pushed on my 300th back, encouraged my 300th woman. It was a sweet birth, uneventful, if you can say that about the arrival of a new, unique person. This milestone has made me introspective, caused me to look back and remember and smile. And it has inspired me to post my very first blog post ever.
Compared to some others, I'm really just a baby doula. The wonderful doula who trained me has attended over 1,000 births. I have attended only the 300 births. Each one has taught me something new. Each is as unique as the new babies working their way into the world. But I have also noticed that there are similarities. Some things do stay the same from birth to birth. Here's what I've learned.
6. The single most important thing a partner can do for a laboring woman is to give her absolute, undivided, focused attention during every contraction.
I say this to every couple I work with and womens' heads begin to nod when I'm half-way through. It rings true with everyone. If I'm with a couple during labor and I'm speaking quietly to someone else during a laboring woman's contraction, she's not terribly likely to get mad at me. But if a woman's husband is speaking exactly as appropriately during her contraction, he can expect to hear an impatient shushing or to be the puzzled recipient of "the look" from his wife.
Labor is isolating. The work of labor takes a woman away to another place, an altered consciousness. Her focus is narrowed and she is embraced by the power of her work. She is going to labor land and she is going alone. The best thing she can do, the only thing, is to surround herself with people who will support and love her while she goes there. And she needs to know that YOU, her partner, are willing to be present with her, to attend her, to protect her space and witness her work while she makes the journey.
This is no small thing and it is a thing that cannot be replicated by doulas or doctors or midwives. We birth professionals are willing to witness her work, her pain. We are willing to rub where it hurts, hold her hand and tell her she can do it. But all we do can never be as powerful for her as your presence and attention.
7. Birth is a perfect system, but it is a closed system.
Most of the time it works very well, thank you very much. But when we take things away, like nourishment or privacy, or when we add things, like drugs or negative psychological influences, we lose the beauty of the balance of the thing and this is where we often get in trouble. Learn your options. Know when to use them and when to not. Which leads to the next thing...
8. There is nothing that can be done to or for you at a hospital that might not, at some point, be necessary for someone's labor.
The key is to make sure whatever intervention is being offered is necessary for YOU now. We are so very grateful for intervention when it is required. Sometimes a little bit of Pitocin (a drug for inducing contractions), nurses say "Just a whiff", is all a laboring woman needs to get her contractions into a good strong pattern that gets her baby out, avoiding a cesarean. Sometimes when a woman is exhausted or when some other situation is present that limits her coping abilities, an epidural can be a fine choice, an intervention that will allow her to relax her body enough for her baby to be born. Even something no one would ever choose on a normal day, say, for example, a urinary catheterization, can make a huge difference at a birth. (If the bladder gets too full and a woman is unable to empty it, the bladder can actually impede the descent of the baby. Remember THAT for when you need to get her up and to the bathroom during labor!)
Truth is, you pays your money and you takes your chance when it comes to interventions. Sometimes, interventions work exactly as we hope they will. Sometimes not so much. Take an independent childbirth class, one not affiliated with a hospital or a particular caregiver. These classes are able to teach you not only how-we-do-birth-here, but also what all your options are. In-hospital classes are often limited in what they can teach by the practitioners at that hospital. A woman was fired from teaching a hospital class in our community for saying that episiotomies are not necessary. A good class will teach not only good consumerism, but also risks and benefits of various common procedures and give you some pointers on when to use them most effectively. Get informed, then if a situation arises where intervention is being offered to you, you will be prepared to make a decision that is right for you and your baby.
9. As long as a mother and her baby are doing well, there is no reason to intervene in any way.
A client of mine recently viewed a movie that made her angry. It was a movie about birth, about how we, as a culture, do birth. She felt angry that no one had ever told her the truths about how badly we do birth. She felt angry that she had been raised in a society where she wasn't taught that she could birth her baby. Instead, she grew up, as many of us do, with thoughts of fear and dysfunction surrounding birth.
Those fearful thoughts have tremendous potential for leading us down a trouble laden path. Many women undergo surgical deliveries because the baby might be in trouble later. Did you catch that? The baby is not in trouble now, the baby is ok now. The baby MIGHT be in trouble later. Not a good reason for a cesarean now.
As long as mom and baby are ok, nothing ever has to be done now.
10. Birth is not lady-like. Women give birth.
Birth is raw. It's naked, always naked emotionally. And physically naked much of the time. Women make sounds they've never made before, will probably never make again. Partners and (here it comes) labor and delivery nurses and obstetricians are sometimes distressed by the sounds a laboring woman makes. The sounds are primitive, earthy, sometimes animalistic and, often, sexual. They are low and loud or soft and breathy and they sometimes crescendo to guttural pushing grunts that put Russian weight lifters to shame.
Women who are left to choose their positions, to make their own path through labor, often choose positions their mothers admonished them to avoid. Unlady-like positions like sitting backwards on a chair like a saloon girl or vaudeville dancer. Women may assume a mid-level squatting position with knees flayed wide and pelvic moving and shaking to rival the most ribald of pole dancers. These are the positions of labor and birth. These are the movements, this is the dance that gets babies out.
Many (many, many) are the women whose L & D nurses told them to stop making sounds because "it's wasting your energy." I'm no expert here, but my gut tells me that moaning doesn't burn too many more calories than does breathing.
So be prepared to move and moan. Be prepared to get naked and not care who sees. Be prepared to sweat as a powerful woman in labor. Be prepared to be surprised as you reach depths of power you had no idea you could access.
And the best part? At the end, you get a baby.
Thank you for reading. I would love to hear YOUR thoughts! Please click “comments” below and let me hear from you.